Review Summary: "Give me a reason, to love you..."
What is Trip-Hop? What defines it? It has been universally described as a fusion of hip hop and electronica, but music artist have began to push it's limits to the point where neither genre is easily recognized. A typical Trip-Hop sound usually incorporates a repetitive beat, which is drawn from it's Hip-hop influence, but it's characteristics are defined by it's Psychedelic atmosphere which can be created by a variety of instruments, ranging from synthesizers to even the Guitar, an instrument that is rarely heard in typical Hip-Hop or Electronic music. Portishead, along with a variety of artists, shaped the nature of Trip-Hop and would become one of the leading voices to promote the genre. In 1994, Portishead released their debut album, Dummy. Gangsta Rap had developed a stronghold in the American Hip-Hop scene, so needless to say the album and even the genre of Trip-Hop itself was practically ignored in the United States. Even in England, Trip-Hop was still rather new at the time, but not a complete stranger. It's close relatives, Downtempo and House electronica had been rising in popularity in nightclubs, and acts like Massive Attack had already begun exploring Trip-Hop's possibilities, though focusing more on the instrumental part of the music.
Portishead's approach to Trip-Hop was a rather interesting one, and it all lies on it's own vocalist, Beth Gibbons. She doesn't rap, but her voice is just as raw. Whatever the topic it is that she's singing about, you get the sense that she has experienced it herself. Like she feels the words that come out of her mouth deep within her soul, letting out so much emotion that it brings these words to life. There is a gloomy shadow that casts throughout the lyrical content of Dummy, even deriving perceptual influences from Beatnik poetry. There are two recurring themes within this album, the first is Hedonism, particularly human sexuality. In "Biscuit"
, for example, Beth Gibbons describes a craving hunger for euphoria, projecting herself as a slave to a pleasurable sensation. "Glory Box"
, an ode of lustful passion. Nowhere in the lyrics does she mention the word "Sex", but that raw emotion that sexuality brings out in a person runs through her voice, like it posses her. The second theme is melancholia, and the internal dissolution conjured up by complex emotions within the heart. In "Roads"
, Beth Gibbons' voice is so ethereal, so soothing yet mournful, you get the sense that she's about to succumb to tears at any moment. The desire for love, the jubilating sensation of finding someone, and the fear of losing that state of bliss, the lyrics in Dummy perfectly describe both the euphoric and devastating sides of romance.
Though it's obvious that the soulful vocals of Beth Gibbons are the center of attention on this album, the music that decorates her voice adds a spellbinding atmosphere for her vocals that seduces the listener into a trance. The opening track, "Mysterons"
, serves as a prime example of the overall approach in music. A repetitive pseudo Hip-Hop drum-beat that drives the song, so simple yet effective. The synergy between the guitar effects, turntable sampling, and synthesizers create a soothing touch of Psychedelia that floats throughout "Mysterons"
. It's the typical arrangement that can be seen in most of the album. But there is also a more avant-garde style to Portsihead. "Pedestal"
, serves as the paradigm as it incorporates Jazz elements and turntable effects in the same song, displaying the ardently experimental nature of Trip-Hop.
I wonder how Hip-hop fans would see this album, and the opinions it's music would conjure up. The songs of the album are a bit more experimental and intellectual in nature, than the typical Rap album. The sophistication and emphasis on hypnotic ambience in it's music is more reminiscent to the atmosphere that Jazz and certain Rock genres often produce. A variety of artists ranging from Rock artists like Radiohead to Hip-Hop group, Gnarls Barkley, have all heralded Portishead as an influence in their music. It's tough to say who this album appeals to the most regarding musical preference, but to anyone who decides to give it a listen may find it's trancing sound to be a surreal experience.